Twenty-two bid for Jackson’s empty seat

Steve Edwards says four candidates are key: Robin Kelly, Toi Hutchinson, Anthony Beale, and Debbie Halvorson

By Hamid Bendaas

Twenty-two candidates have announced their intentions to run in the upcoming special election to fill former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s vacancy.

Jackson represented Illinois’s Second Congressional District—which includes East Hyde Park, much of the South Side, and the southern suburbs—for 17 years before his resignation in November.

According to Steve Edwards, Deputy Director of Programming for the Institute of Politics, the Democratic primary, which will pit 17 of the current candidates against each other, will be the race to watch.

“Most of the action in this race will be focused on the Democratic Party,” Edwards said, noting that the South Side has been a stronghold for Democrats for decades.

The Democratic primary will be held on February 26, and Edwards suspects the race will come down to four key candidates: Robin Kelly, Toi Hutchinson, Anthony Beale, and Debbie Halvorson.

Though some candidates have connections and history in Hyde Park, this former “heart of the district” does not seem like it will impact the election.

“Hyde Park’s influence in the Second Congressional District has been waning over time as district boundaries have changed,” Edwards said.

Edwards noted the importance of the south suburbs region. “The geographics are changing; it’s more rural. It’s also encompassing greater parts of Will County, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation.” As a result, issues affecting the far South Side and the south suburbs are likely to take precedence.

Ninth Ward Alderman Beale, whose ward lies in the far South Side neighborhood Roseland, noted Hyde Park projects as important parts of his vision for the district.

“Promontory Point is something the community has been talking about for years. I’m going to complete Promontory Point,” Beale said, referring to a 12-year controversy over the construction of a storm-protection barrier that has yet to be resolved.

The lack of adult trauma care since the University of Chicago Medical Center’s 1988 decision to close its center is also something Beale aims to revisit.

“The South Side and the south suburban areas need another trauma center,” he said. “I’d like to work with our hospitals to see what the best approach is in making that happen.”

For his campaign, Beale hopes to combine the base he has built in his own ward and the immediately surrounding wards with his connections in the south suburbs.

The changing demographics, wide-open field, and the stain of Jackson’s resignation create unique opportunities in this election for other candidates as well, including Marcus Lewis, an independent candidate from the south suburb area.

Lewis, who surprised many last November by garnering 40,006 votes (13.5 percent) as an independent running against Jackson, has accused Jackson of caring more about his campaign success than his constituents. He has similar criticisms for his Democratic competitors.

“They’re running because they want the job, for the prestige. I’m running because I want to help somebody,” he said.

In an unusual moment for Chicago politics, independents like Lewis and lesser-known Democrats like Joyce Washington, who Edwards believes “shouldn’t be overlooked,” will perhaps be able to make some real noise in this election, he said.

“It’s rare in the Chicago area to see an open seat that’s truly open.”